Alaska is one of the very few remaining places on Earth where you can see truly wild nature, untouched by humans. It is The Last Frontier
, after all, encompassing some of the most spectacular natural scenery and wildlife in the world. Is there a better way to experience it firsthand than on an Alaska national park tour road trip
Like much of Alaska itself, many of the state’s national parks are extremely remote and not accessible by car. Thankfully, however, you can drive to a handful of them. Because of the sheer size, ruggedness, and overall lack of roads, creating your own Alaska national parks tour isn’t exactly straightforward. It’s nothing at all like planning a beach trip
in the Lower 48!
Touring Alaska by car requires extra planning but is very well worth the effort. We created this guide to aid you in preparing to tour this breathtakingly beautiful state. Let’s begin!
Alaska Road Trip Itinerary
Since somewhere between 80-90% of Alaska doesn’t have any roads, where you make camp for your Alaska national parks tour is important. Many people fly into Anchorage and get a Cruise America RV rental
there. From Anchorage, you can drive to several national parks and easily coordinate air or water transportation to others. That’s right—the best way to see Alaska national parks isn’t technically a road trip; it’s a boat, plane, and road trip.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve
Start your Alaska national park tour at the biggest one in the U.S. Located 200 miles from Anchorage, Wrangell-St. Elias spans over 13 million acres. It’s also home to the ten tallest mountains in America. Plus, it is the site of the richest copper deposit ever discovered.
What to do:
Because of its vastness, the best way to see the park is a flightseeing tour. Spend some time in McCarthy, the iconic Alaskan mining town. If flightseeing isn’t possible, hike across a glacier, raft down the Kennicott River, and stop by the Copper River Bridge.
Camping options include the NPS-owned Kendesnii Campground, which has 10 RV sites. There are also numerous pullouts along Nabesna Road where you can boondock
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
Glacier Bay represents the first logistical curveball on your Alaska national parks tour. There are no roads to the park, so you’ll have to take a boat or plane. For this reason, we suggest driving from Wrangell-St. Elias to Haines, Alaska (about nine hours). Haines makes an excellent base camp for both Glacier Bay and Sitka National Park, which is next on the list. In Haines, leave your RV in an RV park and take the Alaska Marine Highway System
ferry to Gustavus, the gateway to Glacier Bay.
What to do:
The park’s nine massive tidewater glaciers are the stars of Glacier Bay, so consider taking a boat tour to see them up close. You can also hike or rent kayaks from the visitor center.
There are no RV camping locations within Glacier Bay, but there is a walk-in campground at Bartlett Cove.
Sitka National Historical Park
Up next on your Alaska national park tour is the smallest and oldest one in the state. Like Glacier Bay, you can’t drive to Sitka. However, the same ferry you took to Glacier Bay transports you to Sitka — and this time, you can take your RV! Note: Vehicle reservations on the ferry are strongly recommended.
What to do:
Walk Totem Trail, lined with totem poles representing the park’s rich history. It was the site of an 1804 battle between Russian traders and Kiks.ádi Tlingit people. You can also visit the Russian Bishop’s House or the visitor center, where master carvers craft new totems.
Camping options include several RV parks
near the ferry terminal. Some are boondocking sites, but several offer amenities, such as Sitka Sportsman’s Association RV Park and Sealing Cove RV Park.
Denali National Park and Preserve
Once you leave Sitka, make your way back to Haines and then head to Denali. It’s about 750 miles, so you’ll want to split the drive up into a couple of days. However, this is one of Alaska’s few national parks you can actually drive into! Six-million-plus-acre Denali National Park and Preserve is home to the tallest peak in North America, Denali, towering 20,310 feet tall.
What to do:
Much of the park is inaccessible to vehicles, so most people choose to take bus tours. You can also hike, either with a ranger or independently, or take a flightseeing tour.
include Riley Creek, Savage River, and Teklanika River campgrounds. Note that these are boondocking sites, and none can accommodate RVs over 40 feet long. For RV campsites with services, look at the several options just outside the park
Gates of the Arctic National Park
From Denali, head 375 miles up the famed Dalton Highway to Gates of the Arctic, the northernmost and most remote national park in the US. As you may expect, the 8.4-million-acre park has no roads—or any services. Your best bet is to stop in Coldfoot, where you can hire a backcountry guide or air taxi.
Gates of the Arctic is home to some of the most extreme, rugged terrain and conditions on earth. It is strongly recommended that even experienced outdoorsmen and women hire a guide.
What to do:
There are no “attractions” beyond the spectacular wilderness in this park. That’s not to say there isn’t a ton to see, however. Hike, explore, or go flightseeing to take it all in.
Camping options include the BLM-managed Dalton Highway-Marion Creek Campground
and Coldfoot Camp. Both offer a small number of RV campsites with hookups.
Kobuk Valley National Park
From the Coldfoot area, you can visit both Gates of the Arctic and Kobuk Valley on your Alaska national parks tour. You can drive the 3.5 hours to Bettles, Kobuk Valley National Park’s gateway. And most air taxi outfitters in Coldfoot will take you into both parks
. And fascinatingly, although the parks are neighbors, they couldn’t be more different.
What to do:
Like Gates of the Arctic, the only things to do in Kobuk Valley are explore and hike. Unique to this park, however, Kobuk Valley has massive arctic sand dunes. Try hiking up them and sliding down!
There aren’t any designated campsites—RV or otherwise—in or even near Kobuk Valley National Park. The solution? Stay in Coldfoot as your base camp so you can easily visit both parks.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Next, you’re heading all the way to Seward on the southern coast. The drive from Coldfoot is over 700 miles, and it’s slow-going because much of it is on the Dalton Highway. Be safe and take your time. In Seward, park your RV and hop on a boat tour, as that’s the best way to see Kenai Fjords.
What to do:
Whale-watching tours are popular, and the odds of seeing both humpbacks and orcas are high year-round. You can also hike across the massive Harding Icefield or take the short one-mile loop hike at Exit Glacier, the only one in the park you can drive to.
Camping options include hundreds of waterfront
sites on Resurrection Bay. These sites are managed by the City of Seward and require reservations far in advance. There are also many sites
in nearby Chugach State Park and Chugach National Forest.
Katmai National Park and Preserve
After leaving Kenai Fjords, head up to Anchorage (about 2.5 hours) and set up camp. This will be your base camp for the final two parks on your Alaska national park tour.
Katmai National Park and Preserve is arguably the most challenging park to visit in Alaska, perhaps even more so than those above the Arctic Circle. That’s because there are no roads whatsoever, even for tours. The only two ways to experience Katmai are in the air or on a boat. Most people take a seaplane from Anchorage, then hop on a small boat to explore further.
What to do:
Coastal brown bears are the star attraction at Katmai, as this is considered one of the best places in the world to see them. You can also fish, kayak or hike, and rangers lead many programs from June through September. Consider hiring a guide for any activity in Katmai because bear safety is a very real concern.
The only camping options in the park are backcountry, wilderness experiences. You can bring backpacking equipment or stay at the Katmai Wilderness Lodge if you want to stay overnight (which we highly recommend).
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve
The final park as you’re touring Alaska on your own is Lake Clark. You also can’t drive to this one, but it is just north of Katmai, so it’s (relatively) easy to visit both parks together. Lake Clark is one of the most diverse national parks as well, truly offering something for everyone. There are roaring waterfalls, active volcanoes, pristine coastlines, and the crown jewel, the largest lake in Alaska.
What to do:
Canoeing, hiking, fishing, relaxing by the lake, and wildlife viewing are all popular activities in the park. Another huge draw is Dick Proenneke’s iconic cabin on Upper Twin Lake. Proenneke homesteaded his land and built his cabin with nothing but hand tools, and lived entirely alone for over 30 years. In the summer, you can tour the cabin.
Like Katmai, the only camping in Lake Clark is wilderness options. There are several places to stay
within the park and just outside, so consider staying a night or two before heading back to Anchorage.
Best Time for an Alaska National Park Tour
While many of Alaska’s parks are technically open year-round, they’re largely inaccessible for much of the year. Because of that, the best way to see Alaska national parks is during the summer, from mid-May to mid-September. Although it’s a short season, Alaska gets nearly 24 hours of daylight in the summer, allowing extra time to explore.
Taking an Alaska National Parks Tour in a Cruise America RV
Whether you have just a few days for your trip or a few weeks, you’re going to spend a great deal of time driving. A Cruise America RV rental
will ensure that you stay comfortable on your road trip. With different size vehicles and many amenities, it’s the best way to see the Alaska national parks! Contact us today to learn about the best RV options for your trip to The Last Frontier.